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Middle East Issues





A "Captive Mouthpiece" Demonizes Israel


Note: The following piece appeared at The Gatestone Institute on Aug. 31, 2014.
 
At the height of the Cold War, under the watchful eye of a KGB handler, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Yehuda Levin, visited the United States in 1968 and told audiences that everything was fine for Jews living under Soviet rule. Russian antisemitism was a thing of the past, he said, and Jews played a prominent role in the life of the USSR, having the same rights as other nationalities under Soviet rule. Complaints about the mistreatment of Jews behind the Iron Curtain, Levin reported, were made by people just trying to cause trouble.

Although activists struggling to help Jews escape from the Soviet Union were outraged by Rabbi Levin's remarks, no one really took what Rabbi Levin said seriously. His audiences understood that Rabbi Levin, his family, and the community he led were under constant surveillance by the KGB and that if he had spoken openly about the suffering Jews endured under Soviet rule, they would pay a terrible price.

They also understood that any type of Jewish community in Moscow was a miracle and Levin had to say nice things about the Soviets for this community to survive. Everyone knew that Jews had it rough in the USSR and that the efforts to get them out needed to continue regardless of what Levin said to his audiences in the U.S. You didn't need a college degree to recognize that Levin was, in the words of the historian Rafael Medoff, "a captive mouthpiece for Soviet propaganda."

The controversy surrounding Rabbi Levin's visit to the United States provides crucial insight -- and contrast -- into how to interpret an interview with Rev. Hanna Massad recently published on the website ofChristianity Today, a magazine that caters to Evangelical Protestants in the United States.

During the course of the interview, Massad did exactly what he had to do to protect his fellow Christians from increased harassment by the jihadists who run the Gaza Strip.

Massad, the former pastor of Gaza Baptist Church (and who now lives in Jordan), exaggerated the number of civilian deaths caused by Israel, blamed the Jewish state for Palestinian suffering and offered not a word of criticism for Hamas. All these things he said under the guise of offering words of peace.

It was, as with Rabbi Levin, a shameful, but understandable, display of dishonesty. Massad's former church is located in the Gaza Strip and if he were to speak the truth about Hamas's misdeeds, something terrible might happen to his former congregation.

The difference between Massad and Rabbi Levin is that while Levin downplayed the suffering of the community he led, Massad has demonized a country not even his own.

Massad's first howler came when the journalists at Christianity Today, Tim Morgan and Dean Alford, (who in this instance should probably be regarded as glorified stenographers), asked him how Christians should "understand" the conflict. He responded by saying:

A Jew killing a Palestinian or a Palestinian killing a Jew are symptoms of the problem. The root of the problem is the Israeli occupation of Gaza. As Christians we know there won't be any peace in peoples' lives without the Prince of Peace. But as long as this occupation continues, there will not really be a solution.

Here, Massad is repeating a trope often put forth by Palestinian Christians – that the "occupation" is the root cause of the conflict. Never mind that Israel totally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and that Hamas violence against Israel increased after this withdrawal.

Massad is placing all the responsibility for the conflict on Israel, suggesting that it can unilaterally bring an end to the conflict by ending its blockade of Hamas, a totalitarian jihadist organization that has regularly called for Israel's destruction. Massad obviously does not mention that perhaps Hamas actually wants the blockade ended so it can bring in more weapons and cement to build attack-tunnels so it can "finish the job."

Nobody in his right mind believes that Israel is singularly responsible for the conflict and that Hamas will abandon its hostility toward Israel if the blockade is ended -- but that is what Massad suggests. The problem is that any self-respecting journalist would confront Massad with a follow-up question about Hamas's ideology and violence, but not the folks at Christianity Today.

Then there is Massad's take on the refugee problem. He reports that after Israel was founded in 1948, 700,000 Palestinians became refugees and that "Many still live in very difficult circumstances." He then says of his own family:

We have official documents to prove our ownership of the 17 acres my father's family lost. If we talk about a God of justice and love, how to explain this to the Palestinians who lost their homes and land to Israel?

Predictably, he makes no mention of the 800,000 or so Jews who were driven from the Arab countries where they had lived for hundreds of years prior to Israel's creation, nor does Massad acknowledge that these refugees have been able to establish themselves as full citizens in Israel, alongside over a million Arabs -- whose families never left during the conflict of 1947-8 -- who have been full-fledged citizens of Israel all along.

If Massad were to acknowledge this bit of history, it would highlight the failure of Arab and Muslim elites in the Middle East effectively to govern their countries. Any honest commentary about the recent fighting would acknowledge the failures of Arab and Muslim elites, who themselves have engaged in terrible acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing during the past century, often under the rubric of jihad. It happened to the Armenians in what is now Turkey; it is happening today to Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen and others in Syria and Iraq. And if Hamas had its way, it would happen to the Jews in Israel.

But Massad is not interested in holding Hamas's actions and ideology up for scrutiny. Not by a long shot.

Serving the interests of the jihadist warlords who dominate life in the Gaza Strip, Massad directs the gaze of Evangelical Protestant judgment toward Israel, and only Israel. At the end of the interview, after encouraging Christians not to take sides, Massad offers this warning:

If we unconditionally support Israel, if we don't speak out when there's injustice, it's not very good for the Jewish people. That's because in the long run, if Israel continues with this, in the long run it will destroy its people for generations to come and create more and more enemies who in the future will stand against them.

This logic could easily be (even more appropriately) applied to Islamists in the Middle East about whom Massad says nothing. Hamas' use of human shields has aroused disgust and contempt, as has its antisemitic and anti-Western hostility. Will Hamas' behavior "destroy" the Palestinian people "for generations to come"? Will the actions of Hamas "create more and more enemies who in the future will stand against them"?

Being the submissive dhimmi he is, Massad doesn't say.

For Massad, it's all about chiding the Jews. "How we can respect and protect the dignity of humanity regardless of ethnicity is really important," he says. "I hope my Jewish brothers will be able to look at it from this point of view." But he makes no mention of the attitude he wants his Muslim brothers to adopt.

Massad's fearful dishonesty becomes increasingly evident when he reports that "of the more than 1,900 Gazans killed in this war, according to the United Nations, 72 percent are civilians" and that "some in the West say Hamas is using civilians as human shields." Here Massad is engaging in rank propaganda by exaggerating the number of civilian deaths and by suggesting that there is some uncertainty about Hamas's use of human shields.

By citing the United Nations as his source for the 72 percent figure, Massad is ignoring an obvious reality – a disproportionate number of the Gazans who have been killed during the recent fighting are young men of fighting age -- between the ages of 17 and 30.

This group accounts for approximately 44 percent of the deaths caused by the fighting, even though it represents less than 10 percent of the population in Gaza. Apparently, Massad is following the Hamas directive to declare all casualties in Gaza as "innocent civilians."

Further, when Massad reports that "some in the West say Hamas is using human shields," he is offering his readers a "red herring" diversion to distract them from an important fact -- that Hamas does not justadmitto using human shields, it brags about using human shields.

On July 8, 2014, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the willingness of people to climb on rooftops in the face of Israeli attacks, "reflects the character of our brave, courageous people. We call upon our people to adopt this policy in order to protect Palestinian homes." Why can Massad not admit this? Why does Massad have to inject an air of uncertainty about Hamas's use of human shields when no such uncertainty exists?

Because he is afraid. Hamas has executed suspected collaborators in the streets of Gaza City. Is there any doubt that thugs from Hamas would rough up or even kill a few Christians whose former pastor spoke the truth about the organization they work for?

Islamist violence against Christians is a reality and Massad knows it. In 2007, Massad's fellow Baptist, Rami Ayyad (who ran a Christian bookstore in Gaza City) was murdered by Islamists who called themselves "The Sword of Islam." Christianity Today ran a story about the murder. Dean Alford, one of the journalists who interviewed Massad, wrote that story.

Massad tells the readers of Christianity Today not to take sides in the conflict, but he himself serves Hamas' interests when he says, "The people of Gaza need the borders to be opened." Nowhere does Massad suggest that Hamas was wrong to use humanitarian aid to build tunnels to attack Israel. He calls for Israel unilaterally to stop protecting itself without demanding any actions on the part of Hamas to stop its misdeeds. That is taking sides.

Again, one can understand why Massad says these things -- because he has to -- but why does Christianity Today not challenge him on this obvious distortion? Are they giving him a pass because they know Christians in Gaza would be hurt if Massad were forced to acknowledge the truth in public? If that is the reason, then maybe its editors need to rethink their decision to interview him in the first place.

Massad, simply put, is a "captive mouthpiece" for the jihadist warlords who have made such a total horror of daily life in the Gaza Strip.

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